The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 27, 2013

Legislators need to listen on transportation

Why it matters Progress on transportation funding in Minnesota has fallen behind and is costing taxpayers

When you listen to transportation experts appointed by governors from both parties, you get the same story.

Minnesota’s transportation system is grossly underfunded. Roads are deteriorating at a rate beyond our own standards set and ostensibly approved by august bodies of both parties of both houses —for too long.

Yet, it is a story some legislators appear unwilling to listen to, much less do anything about.

Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle, former CEO of Jefferson Lines and current chairman of the board, is the latest in a line of transportation commissioners to point out Minnesota’s current stream of transportation funding doesn’t meet even the most basic needs of preserving our road pavements, much less being available for expansions that are no-brainer economic development engines.

So we seem to muddle along. It used to be Democrats and Republicans would easily pass transportation funding. Then it got a little harder for both parties to join together under the administration of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was overridden in his veto of a gas tax increase by Democrats and a half dozen Republicans.

Last year, Gov. Dayton’s bipartisan Transportation Finance Advisory Commission recommended increasing the gas tax to fund basic transportation needs. Democrats who chair both House and Senate transportation committees proposed increasing the gas tax. Dayton balked for one reason or another. It seemed political at the time. He said the public didn’t support it. He wasn’t going to be on record for raising the gas tax and he wanted MnDOT and the committee to come up with a more visionary and strategic plan.

Fair enough. Commissioner Zelle and MnDOT have done that. Now, it’s time for Democrats and Republicans to examine the plan, modify if they will, but make sure transportation needs get funded, one way or another. Maybe it’s a little more borrowing. Maybe we change the criteria for pavements a bit to reduce the need, and maybe we find more innovative ways to fund transportation, like a sales tax imposed at the wholesale level or indexing the current gas tax.

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